|Dates: ||1922 - 1977|
|Born: ||Belgium, Antwerp|
|Active: ||US / Europe|
During his life, Jan Yoors was widely known as a master tapestry artist as well as a preeminent expert on gypsy life. These seemingly divergent fields aptly describe the breadth of Yoors’ talents. The lesser recognized but no less significant of these were in photography, painting, sculpture, writing and film. Unusual experiences during Yoor’s formative years set the stage for a rich, although, brief life.
At the age of twelve, with parental permission, he left his home in Antwerp to travel around North Eastern Europe with a gypsy kumpania. Thus began his life among the gypsies, which lasted for ten years until 1944. At the outbreak of the Second World War, while on his way to England, Yoors was recruited by the French Resistance to enlist gypsies to smuggle food and arms for the allied forces in France, Belgium and Holland. In 1943, he was captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned and condemned to death. Shortly after his release due to mistaken identity, he was again caught - this time by Franco’s army - while dressed as a SS officer accompanying prisoners on escape routes from Belgium to Spain. With the aid of British intervention he was set free and finally reached England.
While studying law in London, Yoors visited a tapestry exhibition and was instantly inspired by the craft. Not long thereafter, he was weaving and sculpting and exhibiting his work. In 1950, he moved to New York and set-up a loom. His partners Marianne and Annabert both joined him and weaved his designs for bold and colorful tapestries. His first solo exhibition in the U.S. was at the Montclair Art Museum in 1956 and at the age of thirty-seven he was selected by Art in America as one of the new talents to watch. Throughout the following decades his work was featured across the country and in Mexico, Canada and Belgium.
While Yoors had taken some photographs as a child traveling with the gypsies, it was not until 1961 that he re-connected with photography. Two colleagues interested in his unique insight proposed making a film on the Roma in the Balkans and he brought a camera to provide stills for research and reference.
The diversity of New York’s own inhabitants fascinated him as well. He filmed and photographed Chinatown parades, Hasidic Jews, Harlem weddings, Iroquois construction workers, and rooftop children. These were featured in the 1964 feature-length film "Only One New York" and his book by the same name, published by Simon & Schuster the following year.
Yoors returned to Europe in 1971 in search of gypsies who had survived the war, traveling through Belgium, France, and Spain. Photographs from his encounters with the gypsies spanning forty years were the subject of a posthumous exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1986. Jan Yoors died of complications from diabetes in 1977 at the age of fifty-five.
Courtesy of L. Parker Stephenson Photographs, New York
(14 February 2012)
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